Posts Tagged ‘Wildfire’

Fire season started early in California this year because the winter rains that usually tide this area over until July or August, barely materialized. Last year, the focus was on wildfires in Colorado and New Mexico. In 2011, Texas was a hotbed of drought and wildfire.  Now, all signs point to a destructive 2013 season, given how parched the earth is in the southwest and west, and we are starting to see that materialize.

Typically, this would be the height of the wildfire season in the southwest – New Mexico, Arizona, parts of Colorado, but despite how dry it is and how hot it’s been, a lot of the region had been spared until the big fire started in Colorado this week near Colorado Springs.

According to several scientists on a Climate Nexus panel on Tuesday (Climate Nexus is a strategic communications group dedicated to highlighting the wide-ranging impacts of climate change and clean energy solutions in the United States), major wildfires could occur across the Southwest this year, including in Texas.  Now that Texas is in its third year of drought, the state is likely to experience a longer fire season as a result of dry conditions and rising summer temperatures. High fire risk conditions raise the concern that Texas could again experience severe wildfires. Fires on Labor Day weekend in  2011 destroyed more than 1,600 Texas homes

A draft report by the federal National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Council (NCADAC) shows that in recent decades, the frequency of large wildfires and the length of the fire season have increased substantially.  Earlier spring snowmelts and warmer spring and summer temperatures have increased the risk of fire in the Southwest. Fire models predict that more wildfires will occur in the future, with increased risks to communities throughout the region.

US wildfires May to June 2013

US wildfires May to June 2013

To see this interactive map click here

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The wildfire season has started in Texas as two large fires rage in Jeff Davis County.  The Texas Forest Service, working with Texas A&M University, has developed a website that can provide some information about your area’s risk of wildfire and also tells you what you can do to diminish your risk.

Click here to get to the Texas Wildfire Risk Assessment site.

While the drought has diminished somewhat in parts of the state, we are not out of the woods yet.  Given the devastation of last year’s wildfires here in Texas, knowing more about your risk can help you plan for this possibility.

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The following are the Interim Charges focused on the current drought and wildfires as outlined by Lt Governor Dewhurst:

Business & Commerce Committee

  • Assess the impact of extreme drought conditions on electric generation capacity.
  • Identify those regions of Texas that will be most affected by a lack of capacity.
  • Analyze response plans and make recommendations to improve and expedite those plans.

Natural Resources Committee

  • Review water resources and conservation measures included in the State Water Plan.
  • Evaluate methods to enhance existing water resources and promote water conservation across the state at all times, not just in case of severe drought conditions.

Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee

  • Review the impact of the drought on the Texas agricultural and ranching industry.
  • Develop methods and legislative recommendations to minimize the effects of drought and respond to the challenges for farmers and ranchers.

Economic Development Committee

  • Assess the economic impact of long-term drought on all sectors of the Texas economy.
  • Include additional analysis of economic consequences of wildland fires.
  • Develop a compendium of federal, state, and local funding and other assistance alternatives for reducing the long-term economic consequences of the drought.

Intergovernmental Relations Committee

  • Analyze ways to better coordinate existing federal, state and local housing resources to increase access to affordable housing following a disaster.
  • Review best practices for fulfilling emergency short-term housing needs and developing long-term housing opportunities using existing tools, such as land trusts, land banks and other available incentives.
  • Review housing and development codes, and guidelines for structures in areas prone to natural disasters, and make recommendations on how these structures can be “hardened” to avoid loss.
  • Make recommendations to educate and enable private landowners to use best practices in fire risk mitigation, fuel reduction and urban forest management to reduce exposure to wildland fires.

Subcommittee on Flooding & Evacuations

  • Investigate and evaluate communication options during evacuations and make recommendations for legislative action.

Transportation & Homeland Security Committee

  • Review state, local and federal emergency preparation and response efforts as they pertain to protecting lives, property and natural resources from wildland fire.
  • Consider ways to facilitate better communication, collaboration and response between all state agencies and stakeholders involved in wildfire prevention, mitigation and control.
  • Review training of emergency responders to ensure that they have the appropriate skills to respond to wildfire events.
  • Review best practices in urban forest management and fuel reduction policies, both regulatory as well as voluntary, to promote safe firefighting operations.

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In spite of, Governor Rick Perry’s designation of this past Easter weekend as official days of prayer for rain, Texas is expected to break its yearly record for the number of acres burned by wildfires, with officials warning that today through Wednesday would see a high risk of fresh blazes.

2006 set the previous record of acres burned in one entire year at 1.94 million. So far this year, the figure is 1.84 million, and we’re just in April.  We’ve still got summer and a lot of the fire season left.

Meanwhile, a state report has found that many of the Texas counties that endured the worst damage from this month’s wildfires received only a small portion of the more than $128 million the state awarded to volunteer fire departments over about a decade for training and equipment.

According to the State Firemen’s & Fire Marshals’ Association, there are 1,042 volunteer departments in Texas with about 28,000 firefighters and these make up the first line of defense for many of the counties that have been battling wildfires recently.

The sunset commission’s analysis, which was released in January and is currently being considered by the Texas Legislature, found counties with a low risk for wildfires had received a greater share of the $128 million handed out through the Texas Rural Volunteer Fire Department Assistance Program than many of those with the highest risk.  Specifically, 59 of the 74 counties determined to have a high risk for wildfires got less than $1 million in grant money for their volunteer fire departments from 2001 through 2009.

Three of the high-risk counties that received less than $1 million — Tom Green, Andrews and Palo Pinto — have been significantly affected by the current fires.

Andrews County is home to WCS’s hazardous waste dump, that could soon be open to “low-level” radioactive waste coming into the state from all over the country.  In addition to radioactive waste disposed of at the site, thousands of truckloads of radioactive waste could be traversing the Texas countryside over roads in counties prone to wildfire.  If an accident happens while our first responders are working to the point of exhaustion at local wildfires, I shudder to think about the consequences to the folks near an accident and the liability to the state.  I think the Governor needs to expand the parameters of his call to prayer.

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